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A Primer on the City’s Budget

The City budget is one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Board of Supervisors work on — it is a statement of our values. What we choose to spend money reflects what we value as a city and as policy makers. Despite our small size, San Francisco has a $13+ Billion budget, which is larger than many state budgets and even some countries. By the time this article is published, the Mayor will have released her proposed budget for the fiscal year of July 2021 – June 2022 and I wanted to take this opportunity to help shed light on the complex and complicated process we take each year to finalize the City’s budget.

The Controller, the Mayor, and the Board of Supervisors begin the annual budget process in the Fall of each year, by issuing an update to the City’s Five Year Financial Plan. This plan projects future expenditures and revenues, lays out strategic goals and helps inform the upcoming budget. 

In December, the Mayor issues Budget Instructions to City departments to provide guidance as they write their budget proposals. Thanks to legislation authored by our former Supervisor and Budget Chair Sandra Lee Fewer, departments are then required to hold public meetings to present their budget proposals and gather input from the public — this typically happens from January through February. The departments then must submit these proposed budgets to the Mayor by February 22. 

From March through June, the Mayor’s office reviews these proposals to craft a proposed budget for the City and County of San Francisco. Concurrently, this year the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee Chair, Matt Haney, partnered with District Supervisors to hold a series of public town halls about the City budget process. In April, I held a budget town hall with Budget Chair Matt Haney which you can watch again on my Facebook page.

From March through June, the Budget and Appropriations Committee also holds a series of public hearings to get more detailed information from certain priority departments about their budget proposals and receive regular updates from the Controller’s office about the current status of the budget and revenue projections. The Mayor must then submit a proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors by June 1. 

During the month of June, the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the Board of Supervisors makes cuts to the Mayor’s proposed budget, and uses the savings to fund community priorities that were left out of the Mayor’s budget. This happens during a set of public hearings with each City Department that are open to all members of the public to participate and provide feedback. In July, the Board of Supervisors finalizes the budget, and the Mayor signs it by the first week of August.

Last year, Mayor London Breed announced her budget priorities for the next two years, as the city faced economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her four priorities included: balancing the budget responsibly in the face of the pandemic, continuing to make progress on shared priorities of homelessness and behavioral health, prioritizing racial equity in the allocation of resources, and maintaining a robust and data-driven driven response to the ongoing health pandemic. 

How we spend our city budget and who we spend it on will impact our social, economic, and equitable recovery for the next two years and generations to come. The City’s budget is a reflection of our values, and the Board of Supervisors job is to identify and cut waste in the Mayor’s budget in order to fund important community priorities we hear from our constituents. 

My priorities on the campaign trail and while in our first year in office have been to provide relief to small businesses and working families in order to have a more equitable recovery from the pandemic. I will continue advocating for my constituents and the community’s priorities, but I need your help holding City Hall accountable and to be transparent on how the city spends our money. Although the City’s budget process seems complex, the Board of Supervisors has opened up the process to everyday San Franciscans over the years and it’s important that we all engage in this process so that we can get our fair share of the City’s resources. If you have any questions or feedback on the city’s budget please contact our office.

This article was published in the Richmond Review in June 2021.

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